Metaverse: The Immersive Future of Hospitality

The Indian Hospitality industry has been witnessing a ton of progress lately. After the pandemic, the industry has shifted to digital payment, bookings and infusing tech into other operations. Now the industry is becoming a key consumer of Web3, Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT) and AR/VR environments. The industry is exploring various areas like marketing, advertising, and guest experiences with the metaverse. While some industry experts are gung-ho about adopting these advanced technologies, others are a bit sceptical due to the high initial expense involved. Asmita Mukherjee spoke with industry experts to understand the sentiment around these technologies.

According to a recent Gartner research, 30% of global organizations will have products and services for the metaverse by 2026 and 25% of people will spend at least one hour daily in a metaverse for work, shopping, education, social, or entertainment purposes. While major MNCs of the world like Coca-Cola, and Nike are eager to prove their presence in the metaverse, the hospitality industry is also keeping pace with progress by joining hands with technology companies to build its presence in the virtual world.

Many hotels are also exploring the metaverse due to the potential of the guest experience. Singapore-based Millennium Hotels opened the first virtual hotel of the metaverse, M Social Decentraland. Marriott was one of the first hotel brands to create and sell its own NFT. The company and other hotel brands such as Atlantis are also collaborating with platforms like RendezVerse to create digital twins of real-life hotels.

Defining metaverse

According to AD Singh, MD & Founder, Olive Bar & Kitchen Group metaverse is an alternate online universe which has increasingly become more important and more real for many of us.

Ajit Singh Garcha, General Manager, THE Park Hyderabad stated that Metaverse is a virtual world which allows a person to live a virtual life in the form of an avatar or immerse all senses into a digital world. It is another form of communication, connection, interaction, marketing, public relations, branding and advertising.

Supreet Raju, Co-Founder, OneRare believes that the metaverse is an extension of our current digital lives. “It is an immersive social experience taking place in a completely virtual environment.”

Partnership is key

The Olive Group, which operates Olive Bar & Kitchen and other brands such as Toast & Tonic and The Grammar Room, is one of the first few Indian restaurant groups to offer NFTs and virtual experiences to customers, to engage with them in the metaverse. To make this possible, The Olive Group joined hands with Hey Hey Global, an online platform powering experiential engagement between celebrities, influencers, and creators globally via new-age technology where fans can discover and buy creator-powered NFTs. The tie-up plans to engage with Olive’s wider community, via NFT and the metaverse.

Another F&B brand Massive Restaurants under the guidance of Zorawar Kalra, Founder & Managing Director of the brand has tied up with OneRare. OneRare and Massive Restaurants will together explore the blockchain world to power up table reservations, online ordering, and much more.

Transforming the Industry

Raju believes that community ownership of platforms and self-expression will become the driving forces and brands will be able to grow their reach globally. “From the time we spend on various apps and social networking sites today, we are already digital-first. With the Metaverse, the quality of this experience will improve – the same way as our phone cameras have steadily improved with the growing reach of social media.”

However, as the technology is pretty new in the industry most of the brands are still exploring its uses and benefits. The technologies – Virtual reality and Augmented Reality that the metaverse uses, enable users to have immersive social interactions in the digital space by creating a virtual identity. Sanjay Vazirani, CEO, Foodlink opines, “I think it is still in its nascent stage and its full potential is yet to be explored and it is definitely yet to reach a point where it touches the lives of the common man. It is far from becoming a real necessity and until that happens; I am not sure how it will be adopted at scale by the masses. I have briefly read about some restaurants which have ventured into the metaverse but we are yet to dive deeper into the case studies and the effectiveness of activities taken up in the virtual worlds that form metaverse.”

The traditional dining scene is constantly evolving and we have seen some massive changes post-covid. Users are steadily embracing technology for ordering, table reservations, and booking experiences. With the metaverse, a whole new spectrum of virtual interaction will open up to the patrons.

According to Raju, virtual restaurants & food experiences will allow food businesses to create a better, more immersive experience for patrons and grow their global presence. “In our Foodverse, for example, foodies can interact with Celebrity Chefs, Restaurants, and Food Brands. They can visit them in their virtual restaurants, play games, join Members Clubs, and swap NFTs for real-life meals. The hospitality industry can grow from a local, physical ambit to global reach by leveraging the metaverse opportunities correctly,” she stated.
She said that the core tech of blockchain and the immersive nature of the metaverse combine for a great opportunity in both the front-end and back-end functions of any hospitality business. NFTs can be leveraged to replace Loyalty Programs and Membership Clubs, used as Room Access Keys as well as enable check-ins and check-outs. With their 3D hotel or restaurant in the metaverse, businesses can show people what kind of experience to expect when visiting them, enabling accurate table reservations and so much more.

Singh mentioned that the metaverse can offer a huge opportunity for the industry. “Large amounts of the earth’s population, particularly newer generations spend more and more time online which should be seen as a huge opportunity for the industry to woo new customers,” he opined.

Sharing some interesting use cases, Gracha stated, “Metaverse at present can help hotels advertise better, allow guests to experience the product better. It can play a role in sales & marketing strategies to reach more guests. Instead of images and videos, the guests can have an immersive experience of spaces in a hotel be it a spa, nightclub, restaurant or the guest rooms before making a choice to book.”

Challenges in adoption

Although the Indian hospitality sector is historically known to be a late adopter of next-gen tech, the situation has changed in the last two years due to the pandemic resulting in the industry utilising technology to successfully navigate the pandemic. While the adoption of immersive technologies like metaverse is still at a very nascent stage in the industry, slowly it is opening up to the various positive use case of the technology. Although the benefits of adopting the metaverse are undoubtedly many, several industry experts are wary of the expenditure involved in adopting it, considering that the industry has just emerged from the wrath of the pandemic and is now in the throes of a global recession. Also, the fact that not a lot many use cases of metaverse for the hospitality industry have been defined yet, deters its acceptance.

Garcha shared his thoughts by saying that virtual experiences cannot replace actual travel, especially leisure travel experiences. He said that it is difficult to measure the timeline of the transformational impact of metaverse on hospitality from a guest or client perspective. “Also, Metaverse is a very expensive proposition to implement at this moment in time with no definitive timeline of ROI,” he added.

According to Vazirani, the usage of the metaverse is limited for the F&B industry at the moment, he said, “While there is a lot more that can be thought of, it will still be limited for an F&B service enterprise since actually experiencing the taste of the food in the virtual world will not be possible and that is the core of what we do. But surely it is evolving at a fast pace. There is now a Foodverse too which as I understand is gamifying food experiences where people can go and engage with farms, farmer markets & kitchens, cook their dishes, farm their ingredients, attend and host cooking workshops, etc. People earn NFTs in games in the Foodverse and the same can be exchanged for food in the real world.”

Although currently, the use cases for metaverse in the hospitality sector are limited, the situation is quickly changing for the better. Considering the many benefits that metaverse brings to the table, hotels & restaurants need to keep watching the space to know when it is the right time to invest instead of denying its future usefulness.

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